Slovenia had a very active year, both on the domestic and international stage, once again quietly showing all observers just how far it has come since independence from Yugoslavia nine years ago. Its former comrades Croatia, Bosnia, Macedonia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia were fixtures in the international media throughout the year because of one crisis or another, but Slovenia was hardly ever mentioned in the international press.
The country benefits from a high level of development and a stable, peaceful society, but an international headline or two would have been most welcome to highlight the country's success.
The year 2000 was one of anniversaries. On 8 April, the country celebrated the tenth anniversary of its first democratic elections, which were the start of the process of Slovene independence.
This was also the 450th anniversary of the printing of the first two books in the Slovene language: Primož Trubar's Katekizm (Catechism) and Abecednik (Primer). The sole original copy of each book is held in Vienna at the National Library of Austria, which loaned the books to the National Library of Slovenia for the occasion—the first time they had been in Slovenia since their printing.
This year was a special year for Slovene culture for another reason as well: it was the 200th anniversary of the birth of Slovenia's preeminent Romantic poet, France Prešeren. The occasion was celebrated by events throughout the year, culminating on his birthday, 3 December. Slovene communities abroad also participated in the celebration, including the Slovene minorities in Austria and Italy, as well as the ethnic Slovene community in Canada. A major conference and exhibition was also held in Moscow, where the 200th anniversary of the preeminent Russian Romantic poet, Aleksander Pushkin, was being celebrated.
Fiascoes and fallout
Things did not necessarily go as well as hoped this year on the political front. Until this year, the government had enjoyed one of the highest levels of stability in the regions. However, with the collapse of the governing coalition in April, things began to take a turn for the worse.
When the coalition collapsed, a group of rightist parties all but hijacked the government for the sake of being the incumbents going into the fall elections. The crisis was not settled until June, when a governing coalition was formed by the SLS+SKD Slovene People's Party and the Social Democrats (SDS). The post of Prime Minister was given to an Argentine citizen of Slovene parents, Andrej Bajuk (SLS+SKD).
Shortly after the coalition took power, it collapsed over a disagreement about a new electoral law. The law was supported by the SLS+SKD, but the SDS had fought the proposed law for several years. Prime Minister Bajuk also supported the law, but instead of defecting to the SDS, he broke from the SLS+SKD and founded his own party, New Slovenia (NSi), in August.
In October, the weekly newsmagazine Mladina reviewed the first 100 days of the Bajuk government, and had little good to say. The magazine found that Bajuk had failed to keep many key promises he made during his confirmation hearings in parliament, including a promise to make only small staffing changes.
In practice, the Bajuk regime conducted an intensive campaign of purging the government administration of civil servants put in place by the previous, Liberal, government, in an attempt to expose corruption by the Liberals, but little came to light. Ultimately, the program proved a great waste what little time the Bajuk government had in its mandate.
Bajuk had also promised he would assume responsibility for the EU membership bid himself, and so he did not appoint the standard Minister without Portfolio. Unfortunately, Bajuk proved to have little time for the membership bid, and little was done.
The government crisis, which basically lasted from April to August, has created a backlog of laws parliament must pass in order to harmonized Slovene legislation with that of the EU, and thereby keep the country on track for membership by 2003, according to the government's plan. (For more information on the government of Prime Minister Andrej Bajuk, see Brian J Požun's article in CER Hot as Hell.)
On 15 October, the country staged its fourth multiparty general election, its third since independence. As expected, the electorate rejected the rightist SLS+SKD and SDS wholesale. The left-center Liberal Democrats (LDS), who led the government virtually uninterruptedly since independence, were swept back into power with their largest win yet. (See Slovenia's Return to the Left.)
Slovenia's youth find their voice
The other big story of the election was the success of the Slovene Youth Party. The party was only formed in July, and competed in the elections on a shoe-string budget. When the election results were released, the SMS found that it had won four seats in parliament.
The party is an anomaly on Slovenia's sharply-divided political scene, as it subscribes to no set ideology. Its platform borrowed generously from both the left and the right. After the fall elections, the victorious LDS was courting the SMS, to get it to join the governing coalition and to capitalize on the party's tremendous media exposure. However, the SMS only agreed to sign a cooperation agreement with the LDS-led coalition, preferring to remain aloof from the left vs right squabbles. (For more on the SMS, see Fisting and Winning.)
Foreign relations—successes and setbacks
This year marked the most significant steps towards full normalization of relations among the countries of the former Yugoslavia. On the occasion of the United Nations Millennium Summit in September, the Croatian mission to the UN hosted a meeting of heads of state of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Hercegovina and Macedonia, as well as Milo Đukanović of Montenegro. This was the first such meeting since the collapse of the former joint-state. The biggest step however was the establishment of diplomatic relations between Slovenia and Yugoslavia after nearly a decade, in the wake of Serbia's "October Revolution."
Relations with Croatia warmed up considerably with the death of Franjo Tuđman shortly before New Year. In March, the new president, Stipe Mesić, made his first state visit to Ljubljana, opening a new chapter of Slovene-Croatian relations. The major issues between the two states include the delineation of their border, particularly at the Bay of Piran; Ljubljanska Banka (Bank of Ljubljana) branches in Croatia; and the nuclear power plant at Krško.
Slovenia's most aggressive foreign policy move of the year was its tremendous support to Montenegro. In June, the Slovene Permanent Mission to the United Nations sponsored a Montenegrin statement to the Security Council in which Montenegro declared that federal Belgrade should not be heard as the voice of Podgorica.
Later in the summer, the New York Times published an interview with President Kučan in which he spoke out in strong support of Montenegro in the face of Serbia. Also that month, Slovenia opened a Cultural-Information Center in Podgorica. The center is perceived as a first step towards opening a formal embassy, should Montenegro opt for independence from Yugoslavia.
Among its other neighbors, Slovenia's relations with Austria seemed rather cordial back in April, when Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner visited and assured the Slovene government that it could count on Austria's full support in its EU bid. By August, however, the new foreign minister was making vocal challenges from across the border.
The minister, a member of the far-right Freedom Party, was quoted as saying that Slovenia should not be allowed to enter the European Union unless it rescinds the Yugoslav AVNOJ (Anti-Fascist Council of National Liberation of Yugoslavia) declarations of 1943, which the minister appraised as being anti-German.
Among the many things the declarations covered was the annexation of the Slovene Primorska region and the establishment of a State Commission to investigate the crimes of the occupying forces and collaborators during the Second World War. One year after the declarations, a resolution was passed stripping all persons of German nationality of their citizenship and confiscating their possessions. President Kučan defended the AVNOJ declarations as part of the continuity of Slovene statehood and are thereby of the utmost importance.
The Austrian government quickly made a formal statement that the Foreign Minister's comments were out of line with the official position of the government, which stated that it would not demand the repeal of the AVNOJ declarations.
Relations with Italy were dominated by the struggle to pass the Law on the Global Protection of the Slovene Minority in Italy. The law went before the lower house of the Italian parliament early in the summer, but public debate raged all year and continued through the end of July before it was finally passed.
The most interesting facet of the public debate was the fact that the leaders and prominent citizens of the city of Trieste (Trst) spoke out in favor of the law and in support of the Slovene minority. Until recently, the city would not even admit that it had a Slovene minority community.
The law was taken up by the upper house of parliament in September, but got stuck and remains in limbo. The Slovene government was hoping that it would have been passed by November's 25th anniversary of the signing of the Osimo Agreement between Italy and Yugoslavia, which resolved issue of the border between the two countries. Legal protection of the Slovene minority was a key duty of Italy according to the agreement but a quarter of a decade later, that duty remains unfulfilled.
Economic strength recognized
The success of the economy was recognized this year by several international groups and organizations. Early in March, the Dun and Bradstreet Agency released statistics which showed Slovenia and Hungary have the best economies of all the countries in transition. In April, the World Bank took note of the strong economic performance and declared Slovenia the first "developed country" in the region. In October, the IMF released statistics that showed Slovenes earn the highest average monthly wage of all countries in transition.
All of this good news offsets the critical assessment of the Slovene economy made by this year's EC progress report. Many of the other countries covered by the progress reports were described as being "functioning market economies," but regarding Slovenia, the report merely said that it "can be regarded as a functioning market economy."
The report cited several problems with the economic situation, such as perpetual low levels of foreign direct investment, the need for pension reform, the slow rate of privitization and denationalization and the reluctance to close the duty-free shops on the borders with Italy, Austria and Hungary. (For a more complete review of the 2000 EC report, see 2000 EC Progress Report—Slovenia.
Slovenia's art scene had a fantastically successful year. All summer, Ljubljana played host to the international biennial of modern art, Manifesta 3. Artists from 59 countries participated, and the show was reviewed in major media around the world. In November, Marjetica Potrč was awarded the Hugo Boss prize for achievement in contemporary art by New York's Guggenheim Museum, making international headlines.
Slovenia continues to make great strides in the field of film, and this year was particularly successful. The Third annual Portorož Festival of Slovene Film in March premiered the best of the country's latest productions: four new feature-length films, 21 documentaries, 11 short films and 7 animated films. Two films emerged as the big winners: Damjan Kozolet's Porno Film, which received four awards, and Srdjan Vuletic's short film Hop, Skip & Jump, which received three awards and was named the best overall.
Numerous Slovene films, including both Porno Film and Hop, Skip & Jump as well as Maja Weiss's documentary, Cesta Bratstva in Enotnosti (Highway of Brotherhood and Unity) and the most internationally successful Slovene film in recent memory, Janez Burger's V Leru (Idle Running), made their way around the world on the festival circuit, winning several awards along the way.
The domestic film scene heated up this year as well when Miha Hočevar's Jebiga (Fuck It) broke domestic box-office records upon its release this summer. In its first four days of release, the film was seen by more than 8500 people. In Ljubljana, six of eighteen showings were sold out, and more than 1500 saw it in Celje alone.
Slovene film students had their time in the sun this year as well. The Academy of Theatre, Radio, Film and Television (AGRFT) was honored by the FAMU 2000 film festival in Prague this April with a special showing of AGRFT student films.
All of this success, however, has apparently gone unnoticed by the Society for Slovene Film, the body which nominates the Slovene candidate for the American Academy Awards. No Slovene film has been nominated in recent memory, and again this year the Society decided to abstain. The move caused an uproar in the film community, and a group of seven prominent film directors published an open letter in the national daily Delo, expressing their great disappointment at the decision. They feel, quite appropriately, that the Society should be doing more to encourage the recent advances.
Blips on the radar
Slovenia did not provide the world with much in terms of front-page stories this year, but it did cause a few blips on the international media's radar. The parliamentary crisis and elections were fairly well covered by press agencies such as Reuters, as was the AVNOJ controversy with Austria.
The economy received some significant recognition by international groups and organizations, but the world media failed to take notice. Manifesta 3 was widely covered in the art media, but also did not succeed in making much of an impression. In terms of exposure, however, two sporting events provided the country major showcases for self-promotion.
At the beginning of the summer, the national soccer team competed in its first European Championships, losing to Spain and tying with both Yugoslavia and Norway. The team returned to Ljubljana to a crowd of over 1000 people waiting at Brnik airport, a huge surprise since Slovenes considered soccer a "southern" game in the days of the old Yugoslavia.
And at the end of the summer, a 74-man strong national team went to the
The government capitalized on the Games as a showcase for the country. A cultural center, Slovene House, opened in an office building in downtown Sydney, flying a 300-square-meter flag, the largest in Sydney, visible from most places in town.
Strangely enough, the biggest buzz in the world media about Slovenia this year actually came from the Himalayas. A Slovene, Davo Karničar, became the first person to ski down Mount Everest. It took Karničar and his team an entire month to reach the mountain's summit, but only about five hours to ski down the 8850 metres to the bottom.
The country would have benefited from a bit more publicity this year, but if nothing else, Slovenia can pride itself on being "boring," certainly a rare thing in its part of the world.
Brian J Požun, 11 December 2000
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